COOK COUNTY — The Cook County Circuit Court system will resume limited in-person operations and services July 6 with most cases being conducted via videoconference to limit the number of individuals in court buildings.
Following two months of collaboration between numerous public safety stakeholders, the Resumption of Court Operations and Services Plan was announced today by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Presiding Judge Timothy Evans. Court buildings covered in this plan include the Leighton Criminal Courts Building, Daley Center, suburban courthouses in Markham, Bridgeview, Rolling Meadows, Maywood, and Skokie, as well as the branch courts.
In-person court operations were restricted under a general administrative order issued by Judge Evans on March 13 due to Governor JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home order as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19). Judge Evans’ order was extended in compliance with the state’s stay-at-home order duration.
To coordinate the safe resumption of in-person court operations, a Cook County Court Re-opening Committee was convened and composed of representatives from justice stakeholders, including the Office of the Chief Judge, the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender.
“We’ve been acutely aware of the need to resume court operations and the necessity of doing so safely. We believe the plan we have put in place meets the challenges of reopening and we appreciate the hard work of all of the stakeholders and the guidance of our public health experts,” said President Preckwinkle.
“We will continue to identify the appropriate balance between allowing access to justice and minimizing the threat to public health,” said Chief Judge Evans. “I am asking everybody in the justice system to exercise patience and flexibility and comply with public health guidelines as we move forward in these unpredictable times.”
Importantly, while in-person operations will resume July 6, individual judges will continue to conduct most cases via videoconference to limit the number of persons in courthouses due to the ongoing public health risks inherent to COVID-19 and the need for physical distancing.
Litigants should consult with their attorneys or the Clerk of the Circuit Court’s Office for information about whether to appear in-person or for instructions for participating in virtual court proceedings when approved by the Court.
For litigants who are required to appear in-person, new protocols will be in place to ensure the health and safety of everyone. Everyone entering court facilities, including administrative offices, should plan for changes to both the entry process and the functioning of the courtrooms. Please allow for additional time due to long lines, extra steps taken to enter safely, wellness screenings, and elevator capacity.
To safely resume court operations, several significant modifications to facilities and protocols will be implemented, in accordance with national, state, and local public health guidance.
- Entry Procedures: Upon arrival, everyone seeking entry will be directed to a line before entering the building. These lines will have distinct markers indicating where to stand to maintain at least six feet of physical distancing. To help with this process, facility managers have posted signs throughout each facility and County personnel will be on-hand to provide direction.
- Wellness Screenings: In addition to the standard security screening required upon entry to all court facilities, beginning on July 6 everyone entering a court facility will be subject to a two-part wellness screening. This wellness screening is informed by public health guidance and includes a health survey and a thermal scanning of the forehead to take a surface temperature. Individuals who do not pass the health survey and who have a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will be denied entry. These individuals will be given a denial receipt with the date and time of entry, which will be sent to the courtroom where the individual’s case was scheduled to be heard.
- Face Coverings: Everyone must wear a face-covering in all court facilities with exceptions for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing and sign language interpreters. The Department of Facilities Management (DFM) will provide a limited supply of disposable face coverings to people who do not have them and have a court date or other court business. Once DFM exhausts its supply of daily face coverings, people who arrive at court facilities without a face covering will be denied entry.
- Signage and Communication: DFM has posted signs throughout court facilities reminding people of COVID-19 symptoms and to wear face coverings, maintain six feet of physical distance from others, follow capacity limits and follow proper hand sanitizing.
- Maintaining Safety Within Courthouses: In anticipation of lines forming near elevators and in lobbies, facility managers will place decals indicating where to stand while waiting for the elevator. Signs listing elevator capacity limits are posted throughout the facilities and in elevators in accordance with public health guidelines. County staff will manage both lining up and boarding to ensure elevator capacity limits are followed. Physical distancing in all areas – including concourses, corridors, lobbies, office areas, and restrooms – will be required.
Courtrooms have been reconfigured to ensure the safety of staff and visitors, with capacity limits. Plastic barriers, or sneeze guards, have been installed in all courtrooms that will be occupied beginning July 6 and in all public-facing counters within court facilities. To assist with the ability to physically distance within courtrooms, anyone coming to court should plan to limit the number of people accompanying them.
If anyone in a household has been recently diagnosed with, exposed to, or experienced any COVID-19 related symptoms such as fever, chills, or loss of appetite, they are being advised to stay home and not come to court, even if an in-person hearing is scheduled. The individual will be expected to immediately notify their attorney, or the Clerk of the Circuit Court if the person is a self-represented litigant who is unable to appear. The attorney may request the hearing be conducted via videoconferencing or rescheduled. Access to the court will be denied if the person is exhibiting symptoms and are unable to pass the wellness screening.
Prospective jurors will follow the guidelines established for everyone entering a court facility including all potential jurors will be subject to security and a wellness screening; and all potential jurors must wear face coverings.